Protest Votes Won’t Stop Climate Change

By: Marc Z. Gold, Cleantech Law Partners

Neither Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson nor Green Party candidate Jill Stein can realistically gather the support needed to win the U.S. election in November. Recent polls show Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump fairly close in support among registered voters, with Clinton leading by a small margin. Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, and Stein, a former Lexington, Massachusetts town meeting representative, currently garner around 6% in recent polls.[1] Yet the 6% or so of voters currently supporting Johnson and Stein could decide whether the next president of the United States is Hillary Clinton, or a man who believes climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese.

In terms of environmental action, Stein’s plan is admittedly the most aggressive. Her platform calls for a “Green New Deal” to tackle climate change head on by transitioning America to depend 100% on renewable energy by 2030, imposing a fee/tax on greenhouse gas emissions, and encouraging large investments in sustainable agriculture and public transportation. Whether Stein’s grand plans could be effected, however, despite the current Republican-heavy congressional reality, is unlikely.

Clinton’s platform does not call for such sweeping action, but is otherwise strong and, indeed, more pragmatic. For the most part, Clinton seeks to preserve and build on the Obama administration’s environmental efforts, including implementing the Clean Power Plan, and meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. Her platform calls for emissions cuts of 80% relative to 2005 levels by 2050, and investment in clean energy infrastructure. It also looks to promote environmental justice and public lands conservation. She has, however, consciously refrained from advocating carbon-pricing schemes (i.e. cap and trade, carbon tax) for the very reason that they would likely require congressional action, and because advocating for anything that could be called a new tax is politically fraught. Like Obama, Clinton appears poised to take environmental action at the administrative level, aware of the difficulties of trying to push bold environmental legislation through Congress.

Johnson’s stance on the environment is muddled and lacks detail. His website states, “Is the climate changing? Probably so. Is man contributing to that change? Probably so.” Johnson is in favor of “regulations that protect us from real harm,” but he would rather work out the details later (or more realistically, never). He is, however, definitely against any government push for clean, renewable energy. He did at one point support a price on carbon – but then he decided against it.

Trump, by contrast, has the worst environmental platform of all the candidates. If effected, his plans would set American environmental policy back decades, and possibly scuttle global efforts to tackle climate change irreparably. Furthermore, on his website, his environmental platform can be found under the heading “An America First Energy Plan”, which cribs part of its title from the movement to keep America out of WWII under all circumstances, and which advocated for negotiated peace with Hitler.

Trump claims he will cancel the Paris agreement, stop all American payments towards U.N. climate change programs, rescind the Clean Power Plan, reduce environmental regulation across the board, revive the Keystone Pipeline and bring back coal jobs. He is also upset because he believes that regulations on chlorofluorocarbons, implemented after the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987, have negatively impacted the quality of hairspray. He (incorrectly) claims that by spraying his old hairspray in his sealed apartment, those contained propellants could never reach the ozone layer in any case.

This election’s two leading candidates are often portrayed by the media as bad actors of relatively equal severity, one of whom may be the lesser of evils. The facts suggest otherwise. In terms of environmental policy, among other things, one candidate is clearly better, and it is Hillary Clinton. She has a comprehensive plan to deal with climate change, whereas Trump makes it a point of pride to completely ignore or attempt to discredit the issue. Instead of looking to address environmental issues, he simply hopes to drill, burn, and mine America’s natural resources to the very last cent, regardless of the human and environmental cost.

Stein’s environmental plan may be the most ambitious of all the candidates, but voting for her rather than Clinton in this election would be useless at best, and catastrophic at worst. It would echo the 2000 election, in which Democratic candidate Al Gore lost the key state of Florida, and ultimately the election, to Republican candidate George W. Bush by 537 votes. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader garnered just under 100,000 votes in the state that year. If even a small portion of those voters had voted for Gore, he would have become president. Instead of electing president a man who would later win a Nobel Prize for his work to raise climate change awareness, those Green voters in Florida effectively swung the election to the most environmentally-unfriendly president in modern history.

In this year’s election, protest voters supporting Stein risk helping history repeat itself. Albeit with an outcome far more terrifying.

[1]Real Clear Politics Polling Average, November 1st, 2016.

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